The Grand Circle Tour – Final Post

It is said that all good things must come to an end and sadly, our Grand Circle Tour did as well.  It was an amazing trip, covering three states, over 1,600 miles, six national parks, multiple state parks, and so many other points of interest along the way.  We were in awe of nature’s beauty and felt honored to be able to experience landscapes that took literally millions of years to be created.

It was a humbling experience.  For anyone who is overly impressed with themselves or their worldly accomplishments, I suggest standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  It might serve to put things back into perspective.

1GCMap
The Grand Circle Route – Starting and ending in Las Vegas

As we traveled in our trusty Kia Sedona, we were treated to a constant and ever-changing display of nature’s beauty.  The panoramas were dramatic and diverse and never failed to deliver unexpected surprises throughout the trip.  As the journey came to a close, a few thoughts came to mind:

  • The U.S. system of national parks is an amazing treasure available to everyone – whether you are a U.S. citizen or not.  The National Park Service should be proud of the wonderful work it does today, as well as its long tradition of service.  The NPS has ensured that these natural wonders will be protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy.  Take advantage of it.  Consider an annual pass or a lifetime senior pass if your plans include multiple parks.  (Our passes paid off after three visits.)

Jan 9

  • Our trip was definitely an “overview” trip.  We barely scratched the surface.  You could easily spend a week or more in each of the national parks and not run out of things to do.  The parks are vast areas with numerous hiking trails allowing closer inspection of sites, time permitting.  Staying multiple days in one park might allow you to catch that perfect sunrise or sunset or get up close and personal with your favorite arch or natural bridge.
3EIMG_7936
Sunrise over the Grand Canyon.
  • For our itinerary, traveling in the minivan and staying in hotels was the right choice.  Parking in the more popular parks at scenic overlooks was much easier than it would have been in an RV.  For a trip covering fewer parks and fewer miles, an RV might have been the right choice.

 

KIA
The Crew and our Kia minivan atop the Moki Dugway.

 

  • Being prepared for a flexible itinerary and changing weather conditions was a huge plus.  We carried small backpacks with us in case our “limited” hiking turned out to be not-so-limited.  We suggest carrying water, fruit, granola bars, trail mix, etc.  We also suggest having a fleece and a waterproof jacket.  We experienced warm and sunny days with temperatures in the 70s and 80s, but we also experienced snow and freezing rain with temperatures in the low 30s.
snow
Snow near the Utah-Arizona border.
4EIMG_7676
Threatening weather as we approached Monument Valley.

 

  • We really loved the mom-and-pop, family-owned businesses like Austin’s Chuck Wagon in Torrey, UT and the Stone Lizard Lodge in Blanding, UT.  They really went out of their way to make us feel like they appreciated our business.
EIMG_7338
Austin’s Chuck Wagon in Torrey, Utah.
EIMG_7340
Historic cabin at Austin’s Chuck Wagon.
Jan 1
No extra charge to watch the hummingbirds at the Stone Lizard Lodge in Blanding, UT.

In closing I would like to offer up these two extremely important tips:

  • Always close the hatch to the minivan securely to avoid launching flying duffel bags into oncoming traffic.
  • Always close the door behind you to prevent uninvited guests from joining the party.

EIMG_8032

 

This was my first attempt to document my travels in a blog format.  I hope you have enjoyed the photos and the commentary.  My hope is that this information will inspire others to travel to the American Southwest and assist them with their travel planning.  I always read and appreciate comments and suggestions.

A huge thanks to Jan for planning and organizing the trip.  Many thanks to Dawne, Stefan and Ann for providing so much entertainment and so many laughs and memories along the way!

aCrew
The Crew

 

4EIMG_7524
Thanks, Jan!

The Grand Circle Tour – Day Ten (cont’d) – Nightcap With An Uninvited Guest

After an early dinner at the Maswik Lodge, we headed back to our rooms.  Stefan had started a nightly ritual of having a nightcap of Jameson Irish Whiskey while reflecting back upon on our day.  Since Ann was tired and Dawne had no interest in the whiskey, they headed to their rooms for the night.  The guys headed to my room for the nightcap.  I left the door open as I went to grab some ice on the first floor.  And that’s when it all went downhill…

Upon my return, I discovered that an uninvited guest had decided to join us.  A small brown bat had flown in through the open door and was now flying all around the room in panic mode.  He eventually settled high on the vaulted ceiling, hanging upside down near a heavy, wooden crossbeam.

 

EIMG_8032
Our uninvited guest

 

Jan found the situation quite humorous and sat in a chair chuckling nonstop, to the point that tears were rolling down his face.  The fact that the bat was in my room, and not his, appeared to be the major source of his amusement.  Jan, being the king of 20-20 hindsight, correctly pointed out that it probably wasn’t such a great idea to leave the door open.  I thanked him for his insight.

The three of us sat there clueless as to how to get the bat out of the room.  As we sipped our whiskey, talk of rabies and vampires did not help the situation.  I decided to call the front desk and ask for suggestions.  They agreed to send a porter.

As far as I can tell, the job of porter is a catch-all, entry-level position that involves any tasks that others are not assigned. The poor porter now found that bat removal had been added to his job description.  He showed up armed for battle with a four-and-a-half foot broom.  The short broom was obviously no match for the 16-foot high ceiling.  He quickly called for reinforcements.  A second man showed up with a giant dust mop attached to a long extension pole.  I began to suspect that these two had not completed their bat-removal training.

To their credit, the two porters were very concerned for the bat’s safety.  After all, the poor little bat had not harmed anyone.  Eventually, we decided to turn out the lights, hoping the bat would fly toward the light shining in through the open door.  After several attempts to coax the bat to fly with the encouragement of the dust mop, we were successful in getting him out the door and back into the night sky.

Crisis averted, we thanked the porters profusely and continued with our nightcap.  (Note to self:  It is always a good idea to close the door behind you.)

EIMG_8033

The Grand Circle Tour – Day Ten – Sunrise Over the Grand Canyon

I awoke at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of an alarm beeping.  Unfortunately, it was not my alarm.  It was an alarm belonging to one of my neighbors coming through the thin walls of the Mesquite Building at the Maswik Lodge.  It was still dark outside, so I decided to make the best of it and head to the edge of the canyon to catch the sunrise.  After a quick cup of coffee and a short wait for signs of first light, I headed toward the South Rim Trail.

I realized quickly that I was late to the party.  The trail was already dotted with visitors armed with cameras and smartphones – all were poised to capture the prize-winning photo.  Some were aiming their cameras in the direction of the sun, while others pointed in the opposite direction, waiting patiently for the sunlight to illuminate the east-facing canyon walls.

From one vantage point in front of the Hopi House, I noticed the sun’s rays peaking through a large tree, creating a beautiful silhouette.

3EIMG_79313EIMG_7932

3EIMG_7936
Look closely and you can see that I was not the only person up early to capture the sunrise.

To watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon is truly something special.  I was humbled at the beauty before me that was on such a grand scale.  After all, this was the Grand Canyon.  As the sun rose, it crested rock formations to the east and began to bathe the canyon walls back to the west with warm rays of sunlight.  (This was the “Golden Hour” that photographers often reference.)

The light worked its way down gradually from top to bottom, eventually illuminating the canyon floor below.  The chatter from the visitors subsided as they stood in a trance-like state, watching the magnificent panorama before them.

 

1EIMG_79411EIMG_7942

1EIMG_7955
Mule deer enjoying the sunrise.

After a long while taking in the views before me, I grabbed a warm raspberry pastry and a coffee from the snack bar adjoining the Bright Angel Lodge.  I then found the perfect spot to enjoy my morning meal.  I sat on the edge of the canyon on a makeshift rock chair, with my feet dangling over the vast canyon below.  As I ate, I was joined by curious (and hungry) squirrels and chipmunks who were anxious to join me for breakfast.  What a glorious start to the day!

5EIMG_7989
Breakfast with a view!

1EIMG_79731EIMG_79741EIMG_79691EIMG_79801EIMG_7981

1EIMG_7984

As I headed back to the lodge, I passed a pen where the mules were being readied for the trip down to the bottom of the canyon.  I spoke to one of the mule handlers and he said that it would be a ten hour trip – five hours down and a five hours up.  Stefan had inquired about doing the trip, but it was fully booked during our stay.

5EIMG_80575EIMG_80595EIMG_7993

5EIMG_8055
I stopped to talk to this guy, who was a visitor about to embark on the mule ride to the bottom of the canyon.  He was decked out with a cool, patriotic cowboy hat, complete with a GoPro, ready for action.

 

Sunrise Day Two

Dawne and I did a repeat of the sunrise routine on the next day.  The sunrise was very beautiful, but it was also very different.  On the second day, there were many more clouds in the sky, that resulted in beautiful colors as the sun rose and its rays were refracted by the clouds.

2EIMG_8034

2EIMG_8039
Silhouette of the El Tovar Hotel.

2EIMG_80402EIMG_8043

 

 

1GC Breakfast
Breakfast with a view on the second day.

 

The Grand Circle Tour – Day Nine – The Grand Canyon

After a nice buffet breakfast at the Best Western in Page, AZ, we headed out toward the Grand Canyon.  We stopped at a roadside stand to check out some Native American crafts (pottery, jewelry, tomahawks, etc.) along the way.

Jan 5Jan 6Jan 7

We reached the Grand Canyon via the Desert View Entrance Station, which is at the eastern end of the south rim.  We stopped at the Desert View Watchtower and were treated to our first glimpse of the massive canyon.

1EIMG_78281EIMG_78292EIMG_7853

Before us was panorama that was on a scale like nothing we had experienced on our trip to date.  A sign titled “Edge of Vastness” indicated that the canyon was one mile deep, 18 miles wide and 277 river miles long.  It was hard to comprehend the enormity of the landscape in front of us.

 

2EIMG_7857
The Crew with the Colorado River and the massive canyon in the distance.

 

 

 

2EIMG_78692EIMG_78662EIMG_78652EIMG_7862

2EIMG_7861
Close-up of a section of rapids.

2EIMG_78551EIMG_78401EIMG_7839

4EIMG_8025
Look closely and you can see a bridge that spans the river.

4EIMG_8018

 

1EIMG_7842

After checking out the views from several other vantage points along the way, we headed to the Maswik Lodge to check in.  The Lodge is actually a collection of two-story buildings with guest rooms that are grouped around a central building.  The main building houses the reception area, a gift shop, and a cafeteria-style restaurant. We were assigned to the Mesquite Building.  The rooms were a bit rustic and basic, but were clean and well-equipped.  The location was excellent, with access to the South Rim Trail only a short walk away.

Jan 13

Jan 12
The Mesquite Building within the Maswik Lodge complex.

 

We settled into our rooms and then headed along the path to check out more amazing views of the canyon.  We passed several shops, galleries, and lodges as we walked along the South Rim Trail.  Of all the national parks we had visited, the Grand Canyon was definitely more well-equipped, with facilities and amenities to accommodate visitors at every turn.

 

3EIMG_8003
A park ranger explained that this heart-shaped rock, known as Matrimony Rock, was probably placed in the wall around 1934.  Legend has it that a young man, working for the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), placed it in the wall to honor his beloved, who was probably a young lady working a concession job at the park.  The rock is between Kachina Lodge and El Tovar Hotel.

 

Below are some photos of some of the wildlife along the south rim.

2EIMG_78582EIMG_7847

2EIMG_7851
Friendly raven looking for a handout.
4EIMG_8016
A buzzard soaring overhead.

 

 

3EIMG_7889
Mule deer were grazing all along the South Rim Trail.  They appeared to be extremely tame, but we were warned to keep our distance.

 

Jan 11Jan 8

4EIMG_8028

We ended up in front the El Tovar Hotel, which is the premier lodging facility within the park.  Built in 1905, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has hosted U.S. presidents and other dignitaries over the years.  We decided to have an early dinner at the restaurant and the staff did not seem to mind that I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts.  This was definitely the best meal of our trip.  Jan opted for the sea bass entrée, while the rest of us decided to mix it up with various salads and appetizers.  The seared sea scallops were perfectly cooked and delicious.  At the end of the meal, we were all tempted by their wonderful selection of desserts.

3EIMG_7961
The front entrance to the El Tovar Hotel
3EIMG_7908
Rear view of the El Tovar Hotel

3EIMG_7880

3EIMG_7879
The El Tovar Hotel occupies some prime real estate on the south rim and affords visitors amazing views.

Feeling content after a wonderful meal, we headed back to our rooms and called it a night.

 

The Grand Circle Tour – Overview

The Adventure Begins

I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip to the American Southwest with some very good friends of mine.  The trip was planned by our fearless leader, Jan (pronounced “yawn”), who is an extremely organized and regimented Swede.  We needed someone to take charge and he certainly did.  He spent countless hours researching potential routes, points of interest, accommodations, and modes of transportation.

In the months leading up to the trip, Jan would regularly send out emails with suggestions and options and ask for our input.  We would, in turn, respond with, “Sounds great,” or, “Whatever you think is best,” and then carefully file away the emails for future reading.  It is a wonder he did not get frustrated with our lack of input and decide to either go it alone or find other more-engaged travel partners.  Luckily for us, he did not.  He deserves full credit for the bulk of the planning and the ultimate itinerary.

3Jan Bryce 2
Jan – Our Fearless Leader

After careful consideration (mostly by Jan), it was determined that we would start and end our tour in Las Vegas and make a big loop (The Grand Circle) covering over 1,600 miles.   We would visit six national parks, multiple state parks and several other sites along the way.  We decided to forgo the use of an RV and rent a minivan, which would be more flexible and practical when accessing the parks.

1GCMap
The Grand Circle Route – Starting and ending in Las Vegas
KIA
Our stylish Kia Sedona with Plastic New York in the background.  Also available for viewing while in Vegas: Plastic Paris and Plastic Venice.

The other members of our crew included Jan’s lovely American wife, Dawne, and the ever-pleasant Swedish couple, Stefan and Ann.  I always say that you never really know someone until you travel together.  Spending day after day on the road with people can result in some uncomfortable and awkward moments, unless you have similar temperaments and expectations.  Having known all of the crew for many years, I knew we would be a great fit – and we were.

aCrew
The Crew

We had so many laughs along the way as we took in the breathtaking scenery and landscapes.  On some days, our plans were pretty nailed down and we would visit a specific national park for the bulk of a day.  On other days, our plans were more open-ended and flexible with only a general direction in mind and a list of potential places to investigate along the way.  On the open-ended days, Jan would typically ask for input and he was usually met with four blank stares.  He would then politely remind us that we had not completed our homework assignments.  This then resulted in four of us frantically searching the internet (when we had coverage) or leafing through travel brochures to find suggestions for the day.

After gathering in Las Vegas (one of my least favorite places on the planet), we headed out in late April, in our trusted Kia Sedona.  The contrast between the man-made, plastic, neon world of Vegas and the sights we were about to experience could not have been more stark.

Note:  Photo credits to all Grand Circle Posts go to Jan, Dawne, Stefan, Ann and me.

Rich Horseshoe Bend
A Preview of the Amazing Sites We Would Encounter – Horseshoe Bend, AZ